Lynne Barcus, B. S. & Tina K. Veale, Ph.D
Eastern Illinois University
Vocabulary Acquisition through Fast
Mapping in Children with Autism
Children with autism present with language impairment effecting receptive
language and functional communication (Loucas et al., 2008).
Fast mapping is the cognitive process of acquiring novel vocabulary though a
brief exposure to the word and its referent (McLaughlin, 1998).
Vocabulary is successfully acquired through fast mapping in typically developing
children, as well as those with Down syndrome and cognitive impairment
(Chapman, Kay-Raining Bird, & Schwartz, 1990; Gershkoff-Stowe & Hahn, 2007;
Wilkinson & Green, 1998).
Wilkinson & Green (1998) found that children with cognitive impairment do not
need extensive expressive vocabularies to benefit from fast mapping.
There is little research on the use of fast mapping in children with autism. It is
important to know if fast mapping is a valid tool for vocabulary acquisition within
the autism population, as children with autism need to expand their vocabulary
1) Is fast mapping a valid technique for vocabulary acquisition in school-age
children with autism?
2) Are children with autism able to retain novel words acquired through fast
Multiple baseline across subjects design
Participants were administered the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, 4th Edition.
Parents completed the Rossetti Infant-Toddler Rating Scale.
Pre-testing was conducted to identify animal and food toys that were familiar and
unfamiliar to the participants. Animals and foods were determined unfamiliar if
incorrectly identified by the participant two times consecutively. This was used as
a baseline measure.
Fast mapping trials followed the pre-test. Twenty unfamiliar items were
presented for fast mapping across 6 trials. All trials included 2 familiar toys and 1
toy that was unfamiliar. The examiner asked the child to “Get the unfamiliar
Two probes were administered to assess retention of the animal and food
vocabulary learned through the fast mapping trials. Probe 1 was completed
approximately twenty minutes after fast mapping trials, and probe 2 was
completed at least 24 hours following fast mapping trials.
Intra-rater reliability was observed for 20% of sessions.
Inclusion criteria: Diagnosis of autism, ability to follow one-step directions, and
normal hearing and vision for the purposes of this study.
Participant 1 was a 7 year old male with autism. He was nonverbal and
obtained a standard score of 60 on the PPVT-4. He uses picture communication
or an augmentative alternative communication (AAC) device to express wants
Participant 2 was a 6 year old male with autism. He was verbal and obtained a
standard score of 90 on the PPVT-4. Able to express and comprehend 3 word
utterances and simple directions. Limited vocabulary for spontaneous speech.
Participant 3 was an 8 year old female with autism. She was nonverbal and
obtained a standard score of 20 on the PPVT-4. Not able to use any speech at
this time. Uses gestures and AAC device to communicate in structured settings.
Participant 4 was an 8 year old male with autism. His expressive language was
minimal. He obtained a standard score of 74 on the PPVT-4. Limited vocabulary.
Yes/No reliability is poor. Expressive speech is often echolalic. Mom estimates a
vocabulary of approximately 300 words.
• Fast mapping was successful as a method of vocabulary acquisition for children
• The percentage of objects fast mapped varied among participants.
• Fast mapping was successful for children with both high and low scores on the
• All subjects had some retention of the vocabulary that was fast mapped;
however, the percentage of words retained varied among participants.
Strengths and Limitations
Strengths: Similar findings across four subjects; intra-rater reliability of 96%;
examiner was consistent across all participants.
Limitations: Participant impulsivity impacted results; length of sessions caused
fatigue for two participants.
Need for Future Research
How long is vocabulary retained after acquisition through fast mapping?
Is fast-mapping successful when implemented in the natural environment?
Is fast-mapping successful for acquisition of concepts?
Loucas, T., Charman, T., Pickles, A., Simonoff, E., Chandler, S., Meldrum, D., &
Baird, G. (2008). Autistic symptomatology and language ability in autism spectrum
disorder and specific language impairments. Journal of Child Psychology and
Psychiatry, 49:11 p. 1184-1192 doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2008.01951.x
McLaughlin, S. (1998). Introduction to Language Development. San Diego:
Singular Publishing Group, Inc.
Chapman, R., Kay- Raining Bird, E., & Schwartz, S. (1990). Fast mapping of
word in event contexts by children with Down syndrome. Journal of Speech and
Hearing Disorders, 55, 761-770. doi: 0022-4677/90/5504-0761.
Gershkoff-Stowe, L., & Hahn, E. (2007). Fast mapping skills in the developing
lexicon. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 50, 682-697. doi:
Wilkinson, K., & Green, G. (1998). Implications of fast mapping for vocabulary
expansion in individuals with mental retardation. AAC Augmentative and Alternative
Communication, 14, 162-170. doi: 0743-4618/98/1403-0162.